Adobe Buys Macromedia: Impact for the Geospatial Community?

By Adena Schutzberg

The Acquisition
On Monday Adobe, known best to the geospatial community as the maker of Acrobat, the software to make PDFs and Adobe Reader, the free software to read those documents, bought Macromedia, the company behind Flash and the Web authoring tool Dreamweaver.The deal is worth $3.4 billion.

From a business standpoint the deal unites the two against Microsoft, a company moving further and further into document management and sharing.(The new release of Windows, called Longhorn is expected to include a solution much like that of Acrobat.) The acquisition provides Adobe with more Web creation products and enhances its position with respect to mobile devices.In fact, there are a few overlapping products within each company's 40+ product lists: Adobe's GoLive and Macromedia Dreamweaver compete; FreeHand and Illustrator do; and Fireworks competes with Photoshop and Illustrator.Still, there is worry on the investor front, since no matter how clever an acquisition may be, in the short term it nearly always brings down the acquirer's stock price.

The companies provided few details on the way forward, but did note that Acrobat would in time support Flash, technology that would make it more compelling.From the technology side, there are many questions. Internet News asked experts to comment on the acquisition.One wondered how Adobe might integrate Scalable Vector Graphics, SVG, into Flash. Another noted that Flash was underutilized and the acquisition was a way to get it into more places.Macromedia spent much of its time at its recent user conference touting tools for moving its content to mobile devices.

My Take
I won't pretend that my use of these technologies epitomizes that of others in the geo-marketplace, but I rarely use these technologies for geo pursuits.If pushed, I'd probably suggest that I've seen more maps via Flash than I have via PDF.I suspect that the public may have seen more PDF maps, if only because it's a "lowest common denominator" for delivering maps to the public, even if a local government has a Web mapping service online.

Flash maps, like this one from LaQuinta's website, tend to be fast and pretty.Click for larger image.Map courtesy: Laszlo Systems

I've been most impressed with Flash mapping implementations on the desktop.They tend to be fast, smooth, very pretty and intuitive.I'm a bit surprised I don't see that many at this point.That may be due to the fact that traditional GIS companies steer their existing clients to more powerful raster to "specialty plug-in" vector solutions.It's the graphics community, I suspect, that sees the power of Flash for mapping.

The use of PDF for mapping seems to just be taking off in geospatial circles.I'm aware of just one company (Layton Graphics) that seriously looked into PDF as a tool to distribute geo-smart data.The solution is slick and uses a free plug-in to the Adobe Reader to provide geo-specific tools.Outside that company's efforts, the PDF maps I've seen are simply "electronic plots" of maps.Recall that the original goal of PDF was just that; an electronic document that looked exactly like a printed version.(Did you know magazines often create PDFs that are then sent to the printer?) Bentley's work with Adobe on making the format more accessible for AEC data can't be ignored, though I've seen or heard little about how that may enhance its use for geospatial data.

Avenza, which supports both companies' graphics programs with its tools for map production, plans to "go with the flow." Ted Florence commented, "It certainly makes it clear as to what platform or environment the immediate future of map publishing will reside on and in many ways it can help us streamline our development, make better and more consistent offerings and ultimately bring future versions of our products to market faster.Up to this point we have had to manage two separate code bases and development cycles in order to support both FreeHand and Illustrator and we are hopeful that eventually this new entity will somehow solve some of the issues we faced on a daily basis."

But that's the desktop; the next frontier is mobile devices.That's still uncharted territory, as I see it.No standard for delivering graphic content has yet emerged.And, I'd like to think that maps are type of graphic, that in time, we'll actually want on our mobile devices.In the early days of location-based services several executives noted that the last thing their companies wanted to do was put maps on those tiny screens.Yet, with better power management and larger screens, perhaps now users really want those maps.

It will be interesting to see if the new Adobe spends some time courting location-based services player to secure a spot in the supply chain.It will also be interesting to see how the business model of the two companies, which depends on free plug-ins on the desktop, will migrate to the mobile world.

Published Thursday, April 21st, 2005

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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